Use a Yoga Wedge in Dog Pose

This entry was posted on Dec 15, 2014 by Charlotte Bell.

How Using a Yoga Wedge Can Save Your Wrists

Adho Mukha Svanasana, aka Downward Facing Dog Pose or simply Dog Pose, is arguably the most ubiquitous of poses. Yoga teacher Donna Farhi calls it the “‘garlic’ of yoga poses—a panacea for whatever ails you.” Dog Pose is simultaneously an inversion, an arm balance, a forward bend and a restorative pose. It opens your shoulders, strengthens your arms, lengthens your spine, stretches your legs, inverts your internal organs and nourishes your brain. It invigorates and calms. For dogs and cats, Dog Pose is the equivalent of a morning cuppa, an elixir to clear sleep-induced physical and mental cobwebs.

In Vinyasa practice, Dog Pose serves as a jumping-off pose for the quick transitions. In some of the sweatier classes, yogis and yoginis may move through Dog Pose 20 or more times in a practice.

Bodyworkers tell me that they’re seeing increasing numbers of hand and wrist problems in people who practice yoga. Sun salutations, with their central Dog Pose-Chaturanga DandasanaUpward Facing Dog sequence are at least partially responsible. If you’re practicing multiple sun salutations, you will likely cycle through these poses many times. Even if you only practice a few Dog Poses during a practice without the rest of the sequence, the weight bearing can take a toll.

Why Your Wrists May Be at Risk and How to Keep them Happy

Wrist and hand problems arise because we often let our weight collapse into the heels of our hands. One solution is to activate the legs more by sending the thighs, shins and heels back. But activating the legs may not alleviate the problem completely. I like to practice using a multi-pronged approach: activating my legs and practicing common sense alignment in my hands and arms.

The traditional alignment in Dog Pose calls for placing your hands shoulder-width apart on the floor. When the hands are in this alignment, the weight of your body tends to fall into the outer sides of your hands. On the little finger side of your hand, just above your wrist in the bottom corner of your palm is a little bone that sticks out. You can easily feel it on your own palm. This is the pisiform (pea-shaped) bone (in red in the diagram at left). Repeatedly collapsing your weight into this point on the hand could lead to a stress fracture. Spreading the weight evenly throughout the heels, balls and fingers of your hands will help prevent this.

One way to distribute your weight more evenly is to widen your hands, which will tend to center the weight more on the thumb side. Another way—which I prefer—is to spread your fingers and align your hands with each other so that your index fingers are parallel to each other. In other words, you can rotate your hands out a bit. I also like using a yoga wedge (in cork or foam) to train my students’ hands to take the weight evenly.

How to Use a Wedge

Here’s how: Place a yoga wedge in front of you with the narrow side facing you, so that the wedge is sloping down toward you. Place the heels of your hands on the edge that’s facing you and press the balls of your hands and fingers into the yoga wedge as you move into Dog Pose. Continue to press with the balls of your hands and fingers so that the heels of your hands actually begin to raise slightly off the wedge.

When Hugger Mugger first published a graphic of my recommendation for using a yoga wedge in Dog Pose in the Prop Guide, there was a wave of feedback that this was the opposite way it should be done. Most people feel that the wedge should slope down away from them so that they decrease the angle of the wrist. But the angle of the wrist is not generally a problem in Dog Pose. The angle in Dog Pose is actually quite gentle—unlike Chatturanga Dandasana, Up Dog and many others. Check out the photo at the top of this blog and you’ll see what I mean. Even with the yoga wedge, the angle is gentle. The problems come from collapsing of weight onto the heels of the hands. Placing the wedge with the raised edge away from your body only slightly increases the angle of the wrist and allows you to train your hands and arms how to distribute the weight more evenly.

I usually tell students, especially if they already are feeling strain in their hands and wrists, to practice with a yoga wedge for at least a few months. This gives them the time to build strength in their arms and train their hands so that when they stop using a wedge, healthy weight distribution will be a habit.

The yoga wedge is a great tool for teaching your arms how to build strength and stability. Try this and let us know how it works for you!

About Charlotte Bell
Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. Her third book is titled Hip-Healthy Asana: The Yoga Practitioner’s Guide to Protecting the Hips and Avoiding SI Joint Pain (Shambhala Publications). She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

11 responses to “Use a Yoga Wedge in Dog Pose”

  1. Avatar Marie says:

    Thank you for this article. I’m curious on the position of the wedge. Do you recommend the same position when flowing through sun salutations in a hot yoga class? I generally experience the pain after class and more so the next day. I was thinking it was a tfcc strain as opposed to a pisiform stress fracture.

    • Avatar Charlotte Bell says:

      Thanks for your question. It’s a practical matter. If you can set up your wedge this way for your Dog Poses, you might try that. Even if the problem is not pisiform stress fracture, it will still allow you to put less weight on your wrists. Of course, using a wedge this way in any of the other wrist weight-bearing poses, such as Upward Facing Dog and Chaturanga Dandasana, won’t be helpful. Since you feel the pain after the fact, I’m wondering if your problem might more likely be in the ligaments and tendons. Our wrists are not designed to bear our weight, at least not on a regular basis. Most flow classes place demands on our wrists that aren’t sustainable over the long haul. You might want to sit out some of the Chaturangas and Upward and Downward Facing Dogs for a while. It may be that your wrists need a rest.

  2. Avatar AB says:

    Hi there,
    I have a ganglion cyst in my wrist preventing me from extending my wrist properly. I cannot bring it to a 90 deg angle, and am unable to properly do poses like tabletop or plank – anything that requires weight in hands with straights arms. A yoga teacher recently suggested I try using a wedge. I think I’d use the wedge the opposite way you suggest – with the wedge sloping down away from me. This would allow me to have both arms straight and weight-bearing.
    Would you suggest using the wedge this way? I’m frustrated with the limitations I face with this cyst – I have trouble with flow classes (always adapting my poses really breaks up the “flow”) and I’d like to explore new poses, like working toward crow. I’m also worried I’m creating more problems of imbalance for myself through the automatic adaptations I do because of the cyst (e.g. holding one arm at an angle in tabletop).
    (For context, surgery isn’t an option for me right now. I’m stuck with the cyst and have been for years.)

    Thanks very much!

    • Avatar Charlotte Bell says:

      Thanks for your inquiry. I apologize for the time lapse in responding. I’ve been recovering from surgery and am finally coming out of the fog. Anyway, in Dog Pose, using the wedge the way I describe should still work. Your wrist will still not be extended to 90 degrees even with the wedge at the angle in the post. However, feel free to try it the other way too and see what works best for you.

      I’d recommend taking care with weight-bearing asanas in the flow series. Flow series are very heavy on poses that put a lot more weight on your hands and wrists than they are designed to bear. Even people without the problems you describe end up with hand and wrist problems because of doing so many Down Dog-Chaturanga-Up Dogs in one session. I’d be more worried about repeated pressure on your hands and wrists than on damage that might come from the adaptations. It’s truly okay to sit out these series when your body’s health is at stake!

  3. Avatar Rachel Scott says:

    Nice article! Thanks for describing the reversal of the wedge; I would have one of those people confounded by the image!

  4. Avatar Disa says:

    Hi, and thank you for this idea. I am currently in RYT-200 training. I am 57 with osteoarthritis and practice 5 days a week. 3-4 classes and at home. My wrists are bothering me. And my elbows are tweaking a bit.
    I have seen the smaller wedges, One for each hand, (good for moving into warrior 2 from down dog, so I can bring my foot up between the hands correctly), but they are difficult to find. Tried WAGS (terrible) and the larger foam wedge.. and the foam mat for the knees, but my teacher says it is too squishy and my hands still dump into my wrists. I like the strength I am gaining in plank. The vinyasa’s are hard on my wrists. Can I do plank with this as well? My form is better with down dog… but it’s planks into up dog that really get me. I also am learning l-shaped handstands and like them. However I seriously need to protect my wrists as I gain strength. What do you think?

    • Avatar Charlotte Bell says:

      Hi, Thanks for writing. For plank and upward-facing dog, you would need to turn the wedge around so that the high end is under your wrists. This might be a bit awkward to do in a flow class. If your wrists are already bothering you as a result of vinyasa practice, I’d strongly suggest that you sometimes do the transitions from downward-facing dog to plank to upward-facing dog on your forearms instead of on your hands. Our wrists and hands are not designed to bear our body weight. We can strengthen them to an extent, but bearing our weight is not what they are made for. Hand and wrist repetitive strain injuries are very common in vinyasa practices. A wedge can help keep your wrists from bearing some of the weight, but it might be appropriate to bypass them altogether by practicing these transitions on your forearms at least some of the time.

  5. Avatar Brad says:

    How about using the wedge… most likely a larger/higher wedge for underneath your feet? to support heels that don’t come down to the ground.

    • Avatar Charlotte Bell says:

      Using a wedge under your heels in Dog Pose is also a great way to support the pose. It gives people the experience of grounding their heels, which really changes the pose.

  6. Avatar Patty says:

    I have a common type of tendonitis in both thumbs/wrists, not very severe, but enough to make me look into using a wedge. But using one in the position you describe would be super painful for me! And it would definitely worsen the condition. My main problem is positions where the wrist is at a sharp angle; that’s what I have to be aware of in any asana. So I would never do that. I just thought I’d share that. Thanks for the article!

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